Tag: nobel peace prize

Nobel Peace Prize to the EU Is a Farce

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee has awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union for “keeping peace in Europe.” The committee has now turned the award into a farce. But few people are laughing.

The Committee has ignored the important role that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United States have played in keeping Europe at peace throughout the Cold War. While it is true that the free trade agreements among the EU countries have led to more prosperity and cooperation, other EU initiatives have exacerbated Europe’s problems and ancient animosities.

Decision making in the EU lacks basic transparency and accountability. As shown by the Danish, French, Dutch, and Irish referenda, the EU has nothing but contempt for disagreement and opposition. The European common currency is in existential crisis. Periodic bailouts, which are needed to keep the eurozone together, have led to riots and loss of life. The EU today is deeply unpopular and distrusted. Corruption, scandals, and cynical abuses of power by EU officials are pervasive.

This is the troubling reality of the EU that should not be ignored. Unfortunately, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has decided to look the other way.

Here is a related podcast.

Making a Joke of Human Rights

Earlier this year, Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama signed legislation that threatens U.S. residents with prison if they fail to purchase health insurance.

This week, his administration told the United Nations that this legislation shows the United States is making progress on human rights.

Obama’s Nobel Speech

I have two complaints about the President’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, one factual, one theoretical. The first concerns his repetition of the common claim that we live in a world of growing instability and civil war. The president said:

The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states — all these things have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos.

Truth requires changing “increasingly” to “decreasingly.” Andrew Mack’s Human Security Brief makes the point. The chart below shows that civil war (intrastate war) — what Obama is talking about here — has become less common over the last several decades. Elsewhere in the report, you can also see that civil war now kills far fewer people than it used to.

Friedman figure

My second gripe is Obama’s failure to acknowledge that peace is a value that competes with others. Human beings get along not by reconciling all differences but by tolerating them. Nations avoid war by accepting the small dangers others pose rather than making larger dangers by trying to achieve total safety. If the United States had sacrificed its desire to promote anti-communism and free trade and contain Communism in Korea in 1950, as we did Eastern Europe, we could have avoided the Korean War.  By accepting some risk from Iranian nuclear weapons, we avoid preventive war. We keep the peace with Sudan because we do not enforce humanitarian norms in Darfur. We could overthrow the government of Zimbabwe or North Korea and save people from disease and starvation. But we prefer peace. Pakistan undermines its uneasy peace with India because it wants Kashmir back.  Israel does something similar in the West Bank.

However one judges these choices, it is important to recognize them as such. Rightful winners of peace prizes are people who sacrificed something important to avoid war, or at least advocated doing so.

It isn’t surprising that the President, given his job, would celebrate the morality of American military hegemony and disregard arguments that it isn’t a source of peace. It was predictable that he would defend the idea that peace in the long term often requires sacrificing it in the short, as we are fighting two wars in the name of stability. What got me was that he failed to mention that peace also requires sacrifice.

To the extent a message unites the speech, it is this:  All good things go together. We do not have to choose peace at the expense of U.S. military activism, democracy, justice, or economic development abroad — they all serve that end. The President basically defined peace as a world rid of poverty and injustice.  He said, for example, that peace within states is not durable without the sense of justice provided by liberal ideology, because autocratic government causes unrest and violence. Aside from the creative use of history, what’s remarkable here is the failure to acknowledge that maintaining peace with autocracies is usually virtuous but tragic.

For Obama, Peace in the Morning, War in the Afternoon

Hours after thanking the world for the Nobel Peace Prize this morning, President Obama will gather with his war advisers to ponder sending 60,000 more troops into a country where our national security objectives are unclear at best.

Instead of embracing General McChrystal’s proposal for a substantial increase in the U.S. military presence — or even adopting a “McChrystal-Light” strategy — the Obama administration should begin a phased withdrawal of troops over the next 18 months, retaining only a small military footprint relying on special forces personnel. Otherwise, America will be entangled for years — or decades — in pursuit of unattainable goals.

We need to “define success down” in Afghanistan. That means abandoning any notion of transforming ethnically fractured, pre-industrial Afghanistan into a modern, cohesive nation state. It also means reversing the drift in Washington’s strategy over the past eight years that has gradually made the Taliban (a parochial Pashtun insurgent movement), rather than al Qaeda, America’s primary enemy in Afghanistan. A more modest and realistic strategy means even abandoning the goal of a definitive victory over al Qaeda itself.

Instead, we need to treat the terrorist threat that al Qaeda poses as a chronic, but manageable, security problem. Foreign policy, like domestic politics, is the art of the possible. Containing and weakening al Qaeda may be possible, but sustaining a large-scale, long-term occupation of Afghanistan and creating a modern, democratic country is not.

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Peace? The Promise of Peace? Eh, Close Enough

Worse choices have been made than Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize.

There was Woodrow Wilson in 1919, an award that rates as one of history’s more grotesque international jokes. Wilson promised to keep us out of war and promptly got us into it, meanwhile laying the ideological and geopolitical foundations for 90 years of war-nationalism, war-liberalism, and war-socialism. To say nothing of saddling us with the terrible idea of world government. Among those who weren’t Nazis or communists, Wilson may have done more than any other individual to promote human suffering in the last hundred years.

So yes, there have been worse choices. (Next to Wilson, I’d have to give Al Gore and Yasser Arafat both honorable mentions. We could go on, of course.) But still, Barack Obama? Seriously? I doubt the committee has any idea how badly their choice will be mocked in the United States.

Over here, the prize will be a disappointment to the anti-war left, the anti-war right, and, of course, the pro-war right. The only contingent I can see taking pride in it over here is the establishment left, which hasn’t had much time lately for substantive work on peace, but which is always happy to make speeches and receive awards. Sometimes, the American image abroad is just that important.

Rather than piling on in what is sure to be a bipartisan laugh-fest, let’s think about what Barack Obama actually could have done for world peace. And weep.

Like Wilson, Obama ran a campaign promising peace and the international rule of law. Politically, peace is a winning message, and the advocates of peace would do well to remember this. Decade after decade, American voters are willing to give peace a chance.

Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq and to close the illegal Guantanamo Bay prison camp. He promised to end the Bush-era detention and rendition policies that have tarnished America’s reputation abroad and weakened trust among nations.

Americans embraced those promises, which are fully consistent with the ideals of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize, recall, is awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Ending wars, treating prisoners of war humanely, and ensuring international criminal suspects’ due process of law are exactly the sorts of things that the peace prize was designed for. They’re just what you’d expect a laureate to do.

But once in office, Obama didn’t deliver. The promises disappeared, replaced by vigorous defenses of virtually every presidential power that the Bush administration invented for itself, including not only those that subvert domestic civil liberties, but also those that threaten the international rule of law.

And the withdrawal from Iraq? Delayed and partial. The latest word — received just as the peace prize was announced — is that it’s “complicated.” Sort of like a bad Facebook relationship.

Our other war, in Afghanistan, continues to escalate, even as its strategic goals seem further and further removed. As Cato author Glenn Greenwald notes, U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan continue to kill and maim the innocent, with very little to show in the way of stabilizing the country or defeating international terrorism. Withdrawal from Afghanistan is both possible and desirable, as my colleagues Malou Innocent and Ted Galen Carpenter argue. Yet our latest Nobel laureate doesn’t see peace as an option here either.

How sad. Not to sound bitter or anything, but when does the Cato Institute get a peace prize?